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New Face: Tammi Kim

The technical services librarian was drawn to UNLV for its collaborative and innovative University Libraries faculty — and to escape the snow.

People  |  Mar 20, 2017  |  By Sean Kennedy

Tammi Kim is a technical services librarian in special collections at UNLV Libraries. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

While organizing Joe Biden’s senatorial papers at the University of Delaware, Tammi Kim found herself dreaming of preserving history in warmer climates. As one of the newest Special Collections faculty, Kim is channeling her archival processing skills to organize archival collections donated to University Libraries.

Why UNLV?

I previously worked in Special Collections at the University of Delaware before coming to UNLV. After three years of polar vortex winters I had enough of snow and ice, and decided to move to the Mojave Desert for a change. But in all seriousness, the innovative services and talented staff here in the University Libraries Special Collections really motivated me to come to UNLV. I have the opportunity to collaborate with some very creative and progressive colleagues to come up with innovative ways to preserve and provide the public with access to history.

What is your role in Special Collections?

My job title is technical services librarian for Special Collections — which is one way of saying that I do collection management. In archival terms, I am responsible for accessioning, which is a very “front-of-the-line” job. I work on every collection that comes through our doors and establish baseline intellectual and physical control over the materials in all the various formats they come in — brittle paper, large-framed photographs, floppy disks, hard drives, and even three-dimensional artifacts, to name a few. My director, Michelle Light, likes to say that I perform “archival triage” on our collections before they move on to the next person in our workflow.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

UNLV prides itself on transparency and community engagement, which are two qualities that I believe are essential for public institutions. I also appreciate and respect the fact that UNLV is one of the most diverse college campuses in the country. And I’ve never gone to school or worked at a place that is a stone’s throw away from any place that is quite as colorful as the Las Vegas Strip.

Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.

I once drove through the Valley of Fire during a pretty severe flash flood. I literally had no idea what to do or what to expect, but my car and I made it out alive. And some people in my life told me that moving from a small college town in the Mid-Atlantic to Las Vegas was pretty daring.

What inspired you to get into your field?

In a previous life, I worked in high-end furniture retail while trying to figure out my career path after college. At some point, I realized that although I didn’t love the sales aspect of my job, I really enjoyed researching and organizing information about products and services for my customers. This unconventional (some might say) route led me to attend graduate school at UCLA, where I took classes and internships in a little bit of everything from reference services to rare book cataloging. I found my niche in archival processing. I discovered that I really enjoy organizing collection materials that are often chaotic and disarrayed — arranging and describing them into something discoverable and accessible to the public.

What are some interesting or unusual items you have come across?

Some of the more unusual items I have come across include some of the artifacts we occasionally receive in our collections, like a vintage flamingo statue that has a Flamingo Hotel and Casino stamp on the bottom. Others have had to do with obsolete technology. I often come across 3.5-inch floppy disks, Zip disks, Jaz disks, and on one or two occasions punched tape, which was a very early form of data storage developed in the 19th century and used until the 1980s. I also helped acquire an important, recent discovery — about 70 boxes of historical records from the Las Vegas Jewish Federation found in a long-forgotten storage unit.

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why it is significant.

There is a life-sized promotional cutout of Carmella Rickman, a former burlesque dancer from the mid-20th century (the “Sophia Loren of burlesque”), that shares an office space with me. She’s my unofficial officemate. The cutout is part of a collection that is comprised of promotional materials on Carmella’s career. To me, she represents many different aspects about my work, from the richness of our amazing entertainment collections to the diversity in the type of materials we collect. People may think of archives and special collections as being old books and manuscripts, but we collect so much more than that. Sometimes that includes promotional cutouts of famous entertainers!